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Ecologist’s Dream, Fisherman’s Nightmare in Guinea-Bissau ?

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

In June 1994, the Ministry of Fisheries introduced a new decree regulating fishing activities in the estuary of Rio Grande de Buba. On the whole, this regulation features standard restrictions, like defining the permissible mesh size of the nets.

Significantly, it also forbids fishing with drift-nets in August and September, specifically affecting the fishing of barracudas. The barracuda is a coastal fish which enters the estuaries during the rainy season (July to October)to breed. Hence, at first sight, the decision to protect it during this period seems logical.

But a few specificities of this fishing area should be noted. The first is the wide continental shelf in Guinea-Bissau. Extending far into the sea, it widely overlaps the industrial fishing area, between 12 and 200 nautical miles. So, on the one hand, barracuda fishing by the industrial fleet has not been regulated. On the other hand, the decree exclusively affects the artisanal fishery in the estuarine area.

While there is undoubtedly a case for better management of fishery resources, given the recent trend indicating a decline in productivity of the Guinean waters, the brunt of the management measures should not be borne by the artisanal fishers. Especially since the government is trying to develop the artisanal sector, still in its developing stages, and such regulations will only hinder its development.

According to surveys, the total number of canoes from the artisanal sector was 12 in 1992 and 17 in 1993. The maximum annual production was between 20 to 30 tonnes of barracuda.

According to official statistics, industrial trawling caught at least 283 tonnes of barracuda in 1993. However, there are good reasons to consider these figures as underestimates. An analysis of the statistics indicates that while 83 per cent of the catch is declared by boats of the former Soviet Union, none is declared by the Koreans, the Spanish or the Portuguese.

Other aspects are also important to consider. During the rainy season the estuary of the Rio is a naturally protected and safe area. On the other hand, at that time the open sea is quite dangerous for artisanal fishers in small boats.

Also, in the middle and long term, such a ban short-circuits the organization of a professional artisanal fishery. If the fishworkers wish to remain in the Rio, they have to resort to hooks-and-line fishing. This is undoubtedly a more selective technique. But, for many fishermen, fishing for barracudas during the rainy season with a line rather than a net is quite a painful experience. Indeed, during the breeding period, the barracuda just does not bite the bait.

At the same time, the basis of the ban is also suspect. It was implemented on the recommendation of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A survey by IUCN, observing the Nhomincas fishermen, noted that for the months of August and September, 57 to 73 per cent of the catch was at least 1.20 m long, and that most of the barracuda were females.

However, these observations must be treated with caution. For one, this survey lasted only six months . Further, it is a known fact that a sexually mature, four-year old barracuda approaches 70 cm and those which have grown to 1.20 m or more have already reproduced many times.

In all likelihood, therefore, a ban on net-fishing will have no serious effect on the protection of the barracuda resources, which really depends mainly on the behaviour of the industrial fishery. Measures like defining the mesh size of the nets and limiting the number of boats are sufficient to regulate the artisanal fishery of Guinea-Bissau.

Significantly, fisheries authorities in Gunea-Bissau also do not stand by the ban. It appears that the ban continues on the insistence of the IUCN. It also appears that the real pressure comes from Switzerland, which probably relates it to the repayment of a pending debt from Guinea-Bissau!

Palabras claves


, Guinea-Bissáu, Rio Grande de Buba


While there is no doubt that there is a need to improve management of fishery resources, it is essential that the implications of such management measures be carefully thought through. If, in the name of conservation, the livelihood of the artisanal and small-scale sector is threatened, then there is definitely a need for closer examination and modification. There are already numerous instances of stringent environmental measures applied at the insistence of `ecologists’, measures that have further marginalised disadvantaged groups. The removal of fishing communities from `protected areas’ is a case in point.

Management initiatives must seek the participation of all stakeholders, in particular those who have depended traditionally on the resource for a livelihood. Negative social consequences for doubtful environmental gains must be minimised. In any case conservation measures which disregard the impact on traditional communities are unlikely to succeed, as experience from all parts of the world has indicated time and again. In the case of the barracuda fishery of Guinea-Bissau, it is also evident that the focus of management measures needs to be elsewhere- on the industrial fleets of other countries.


Artículos y dossiers

STEGEMANN, Hannes; BRACONIER, Philippe de, Dream or nightmare? in. Samudra Report, 1995/10, 13

ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) - 27 College Road, Chennai 600006, INDIA - Tel. (91) 44-2827 5303 - Fax (91) 44-2825 4457 - India - - icsf (@)

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